SOCHI, Russia – Like old times, Russia is dominating Olympic figure skating.
The host nation’s disappointment over not winning a gold medal in Vancouver will fade quickly if its skaters’ performances in the new event of team figure skating carry on throughout the Sochi Games.
Fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia had the look of an Olympic champion on Saturday night, dazzling the home crowd with a near-perfect routine in the women’s short program. Then it was Russia’s backup pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, earning cheers as they routed the field in the free skate.
With only the men’s and women’s free skate and the free dance left to contest in today’s finale, Russia has 47 points to Canada’s 41 and the United States’ 34. Italy has 31 and Japan has 30.
With her countrymen chanting her first name, Lipnitskaia put on a presentation that had fans stomping their feet and showering the ice with flowers and dolls. Her flexibility and rapid rotation on her spins and jumps were reminiscent of Tara Lipinski when she won the 1998 Olympic gold.
And Lipinski, who was the same age at those games in Nagano, was on hand to see it.
“I have been saying the whole year that she is a dark horse,” Lipinski said of Lipnitskaia – yes, the names are nearly the same. “I loved the energy and the fight in her.”
Lipnitskaia easily outskated far more experienced competitors Carolina Kostner of Italy, who is in her third Olympics, and Japan’s Mao Asada, in her second. The moment wasn’t too big for her in any way.
“My trainers told me people would cry,” she said. “They told me they would be clapping to the music. But I didn’t think the spectators would be so loud. But it helped me to perform.”
In the new event, Russia has finished no lower than third in any of its four disciplines. The nation that for decades held a stronghold on figure skating medals as the Soviet Union and then as Russia – 51 in all – appears ready to hog the podium again after just two wins in Vancouver.
It was a good night for the Americans, too. The team was seventh heading into Saturday, but thanks in great part to world champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it got back into contention for a medal. The 2010 ice dancing silver medalists quickstepped to the rescue by winning the short dance.
“We don’t feel like we’re trying to carry any sort of burden or load,” White said. “We’re counting on the whole team to pull through together and I think that’s what makes us such a strong team.”
But not nearly as strong as the Russians, led by a teenager who doesn’t look her age.